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United States v. Toro

decided: February 27, 1975.


Appellants were convicted by a jury before Hon. Whitman Knapp, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York of the crimes of bribing a federal public official in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201, of conspiracy to defraud the United States of its lawful functions in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and of several counts respectively of making false declarations in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623. The Court of Appeals held, Gurfein, Circuit Judge, that the person "bribed," and employee of New York City, was not a federal "public official" within the meaning of Section 201 and that the conviction on the substantive counts must be reversed. The Court held further that a conspiracy to defraud the United States was proved, and that the contention of appellant Kaufman that he was improperly convicted of the crime of making a false declaration because of his alleged recantation is rejected and the false declaration convictions, as well as the conspiracy conviction, are affirmed.

Friendly, Feinberg and Gurfein, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gurfein

GURFEIN, Circuit Judge:

Appellants William Del Toro and William Kaufman were convicted of conspiracy, bribery and perjury after a two week trial before Judge Knapp and a jury. They challenge their conviction on several grounds in this appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

The indictment charged appellants and a third defendant, Ralph Ruocco,*fn1 with conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and with bribing a public official, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 201(b) and 2. In addition, each individual defendant was charged with several counts of perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623.

The jury found Kaufman guilty of conspiracy, bribery and on three counts of perjury. Three other counts had been dismissed by the court before trial on the ground that Kaufman had effectively recanted his false testimony within the terms of 18 U.S.C. § 1623(d) during his testimony before the Grand Jury. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of four years on each count.

The jury found Del Toro guilty of conspiracy, bribery and on five counts of perjury. He was acquitted on a sixth count of perjury; a seventh had been dismissed at the close of all the evidence. He was sentenced by Judge Knapp to concurrent terms of a year and one day on each count.

Evidence introduced by the Government allowed the jury to find that Del Toro and Kaufman had conspired to bribe Pedro Morales, Assistant Administrator of the Harlem-East Harlem Model Cities Program. Kaufman, a lawyer and a real estate broker, hoped that Morales would use his official position to secure for Kaufman a lease by Model Cities of significant office space in one of the buildings for which Kaufman was the renting agent. The benefit to Kaufman would be a lucrative commission. Del Toro, the Executive Director of an East Harlem anti-poverty agency, Massive Economic Neighborhood Development, Inc. (MEND), acted as a middle man in the transaction.

The first meeting between Kaufman and Morales occurred during late August, 1972, as a result of a chance conversation between Del Toro and Morales in Morales' office. Morales mentioned to Del Toro that he had been charged with the duty of finding office space for a new branch of Model Cities. Del Toro stated that space was available in the Ludwig-Baumann building, where MEND offices had previously been located, and that he knew Kaufman, the rental agent. Several days later, Del Toro telephoned Morales to say that Kaufman was at the MEND offices. Morales joined Del Toro at MEND offices, met Kaufman, and discussed the possibilities of leasing office space with both men. At one point, Morales told Kaufman that to secure the lease, Kaufman would have to pay a 10 per cent commission as a bribe. Kaufman indicated that he knew he might have to pay a bribe and would think it over.

On September 1 Morales was arrested by the United States Attorney's Office on charges of conspiracy and receipt of bribes relating to a different matter, a Model Cities summer camp program. Morales admitted his complicity and agreed to assist in a joint federal-city undercover investigation into official corruption in the Model Cities Administration. Thereafter, Morales, while retaining his job with Model Cities, aided investigators by tape recording conversations with various individuals who continued to perceive him as a corrupt administrator. Among those individuals were Kaufman and Del Toro.

On September 20 Kaufman dropped in at Morales' office at a time when, by chance, Morales happened to be wearing concealed recording equipment in connection with another investigation. Morales recorded his conversation with Kaufman, in which the two discussed the possibility of the renting of space in the Ludwig-Baumann Building by Model Cities. Kaufman assured Morales that a mutually lucrative deal could be worked out in detail. When Morales stated that his superior would want money "up front," Kaufman stated that he usually operated on trust with people, but he did not refuse out of hand to supply front money. Kaufman also noted that they would have to build up a business record of their transaction to conceal the payoff.

On October 26 Morales recorded a conversation with Del Toro in which Del Toro offered to help Morales come to an agreement with Kaufman, who had not gotten in touch with Morales since their September 20 meeting.

On October 30 Morales met with Kaufman at Del Toro's office, as Del Toro had arranged, and the conversation was recorded. Del Toro was not present. Kaufman told Morales that the owners of the building had agreed to pay Morales $15,000 if he could arrange for Model Cities to rent the space and that the payoff would be disguised as a part of Kaufman's commission agreement. Kaufman would make his payment to Morales once the commission had been paid to Kaufman. In response to Morales' expressed fears of a double-cross, Kaufman stated that he would not jeopardize his continuing good relationship with the City personnel by deceiving Morales.

Thereafter, Morales had a series of meetings both with Del Toro and Kaufman which were recorded. In such meetings, Del Toro demonstrated specific knowledge of the transactions between Kaufman and Morales and urged Morales to trust Kaufman. He also agreed to help Morales secure front money from Kaufman. In meetings with Kaufman, Kaufman assured Morales that money would be forthcoming once serious negotiations on the lease had begun.

In the meantime, Kaufman had informed Ralph Ruocco, assistant to the President of Acme-Hamilton, the New Jersey corporation which owned the Ludwig-Baumann Building, that it might be necessary to bribe Model Cities officials in order to secure the lease. On November 14 Kaufman and Ruocco, on behalf of Acme-Hamilton, signed a commission agreement which included inflated percentage payments to Kaufman, out of which he would make payments to the officials. In January, Kaufman succeeded in getting a check for $500 from Ruocco, who had purportedly gotten approval from his superior, the President of Acme-Hamilton. On January 26 at a prearranged meeting, Kaufman paid the $500 in cash to Morales and urged him to press forward with arrangements for the lease. Kaufman later told Ruocco that the money had been paid to Morales.

The perjury counts against Kaufman

On February 2, 1973, Kaufman appeared before the Grand Jury, where he was advised of his constitutional rights and of the fact that he was a target of their investigation. After having denied complicity in any corrupt activities, Kaufman was shown boxes of tape recordings. He then admitted that Morales had asked him for money, but denied offering or paying any bribes.

Thereafter, Kaufman met with the Assistant United States Attorney conducting the grand jury investigation, who reminded him of his constitutional rights and then read to him the perjury statute, drawing his attention to the recantation provision and to the proviso that a recantation can no longer be made once the perjury has become manifest. The Assistant then told Kaufman about the tapes of his conversations with Morales, after which Kaufman admitted offering a bribe to Morales. He continued to deny that he actually paid the $500.

The Assistant and Kaufman then entered into an exchange in which Kaufman indicated that he would be willing to tape conversations with officials of Acme-Hamilton in return for a deal with the Government. Denied his request for full immunity, and informed that he would have to plead guilty to a felony, Kaufman decided to consult an attorney.

On February 6 Kaufman and his lawyer met with the Assistant and, after some discussion, Kaufman agreed to cooperate with the Government and to plead guilty either to conspiracy or to perjury. He now admitted paying the $500 to Morales and revealed his discussions and arrangements with Ruocco. During the subsequent, brief period of cooperation, Kaufman himself tape recorded two conversations with Ruocco, in which Ruocco indicated his knowledge of the bribery transactions and implicated his superiors at Acme-Hamilton. Kaufman was twice called to appear before the Grand Jury thereafter to adjourn his subpoena, but he did not testify.

On February 16 Kaufman again asked for full immunity or for a chance to plead to a gratuity count in return for his continued cooperation. Informed that this arrangement would be impossible, Kaufman withdrew from his agreement to cooperate with the Government. He appeared once more before the Grand Jury, but failed to testify further on advice of counsel. Kaufman also warned Ruocco by ...

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